If you drop by the Web's Free Dictionary site, you'll find that Taoism is defined as a "philosophical system developed by Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, advocating a simple honest life and noninterference with the course of natural events." The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has several definitions, but the closest in spirit to Lao-tzu's writings is probably "the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony."

"Why," you may be wondering, "is this guy going on about Chinese philosophy? What does it have to do with timber? Has he been drinking?"

The answers, in short, are: Taoism speaks about the importance of balance; it has to do with acceptance of change; and, no, not today, anyway.

Lao-Tzu spent a lot of time sitting around in bamboo groves, drinking wine and thinking about change. Change, whether our acceptance of it, or our modification by it, is central to a lot of Taoist thinking and stories. One of the most famous involves Chuang-tzu waking from a dream in which he was a butterfly, to find himself seriously wondering if perhaps he might not, then, be a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

One of the central tenets of Taoism is that you can't halt change. Might as well try to stop an avalanche with a snow-blower. Humans, taoist thinkers agreed, got on best when they simply dealt with change as it occurred rather than fighting it every step of the way. If you wake up a butterfly, go for a flight. Don't sweat it. When people avoid extremes, Lao-tzu and others argued, people do better. Living in the Sahara or the Antarctic are probably not very wise choices. Neither is adopting a fascist or communist government. Extremes are not people-friendly.

"Hah!" shouts the E.L.F. warrior hunkered down, wrist chained to a skip-loader. "That means we eco-warriors are in the right! Loggers are extremists, failing to adapt to the shrinking wilderness and instead cutting the trees down without a thought to the future! We must stop all logging immediately!"

Well... no. A true taoist would probably see clearcutting as ugly and unwise, but, being a human action, he wouldn't necessarily be surprised. After all, most humans are ugly and unwise. That's the nature of the species. We smoke, drink and drive too fast when it's snowy. Ignoring people's need for wood and paper products is neither useful nor realistic. Timber must be harvested.

"Hah! In your face, Greenpeace $#%&@$#!" growls the happy logger who has just cut the final tree big enough to be worth calling "tree" on a soon-to-be-washed-away hillside somewhere in the Blue Mountains. "You gotta do what you gotta do. People need to have as much timber as they want."

Well, again, no.

A wise man has no problem with logging. Of course, that doesn't mean Lao-Tzu would go out and chip every tree on Strawberry Mountain to make McDonald's fry-boxes, either.

Balance.

People like to talk about "sustainable resources" and "balanced land use" - especially when those people are politicians, activists or corporate spokesmen - but they are rarely willing to practice what they preach. When a logging company rushes 24/7 to haul as much timber out of a legally disputed area while the court case is pending, it doesn't just look like corporate greed; it is. When an activist decides that the best way to protect the forest is to dump five pounds of steel filings into a loader's hydraulic system, it doesn't just look like reckless endangerment and vandalism; it is.

What both sides, polarized and ready to fight, don't realize is that extremism - of whatever stripe - does not bring more people to your side. It merely drives away anyone not yet in your camp.

The truth of the matter lies, as always, somewhere between the extremes. Something less than a moratorium on logging, but also less than a free reign to cut any tree, any time, anywhere. The answer lies in the realm of compromise.

Someone once said a compromise is "a solution which makes no one happy." A compromise requires those arguing to have given up their most extreme ideas and/or positions, in an effort to find a middle ground. While that's easy enough to say, it's harder to do. It requires strength to give up, or at least modify, your most deeply radical beliefs, and it's usually not a pleasant experience.

Still, that's where we are today.

The federal government is a vacillating mess, protecting owls while simultaneously pressing for wilderness drilling, caught in a contradictory web spun between those of the extremes.

It's probably safe to lump the mass media in with the government, with networks like Fox and CNN intentionally polarizing opinions and spinning news to suit their chosen demographic. The government, under whichever party's control, as well as the media, seem hell-bent on addressing only the loudest and fringiest among us. We see plenty of Al Franken and Bill O'Reilly, but not much Jim Lehrer.

Business is concerned with making money, and nothing else really matters to a corporation of any size. Witness, say, Enron as an example of why your average worker can never trust a big corporation. And if a corporation will do that to its own, what do we really think industry would do to trees, minerals, oil, water and the air if let completely off the leash?

Radical environmentalists continue to rally - chanting slogans and destroying other people's property - around the worst fights they can pick, whether the blue-spined stickleback (native only to the small puddle just west of my outhouse) or the spotted owl, but fail to ask hard questions about truly important issues, such as the BPA ignoring EPA regulations, in ways that could lead to balanced solutions.

So how do you as an individual fix this? How do you find the Tao of timber? The feng-shui of fisheries?

Move away from the extremes in your own beliefs that poison any argument before it starts.

Realize we need trees, and paper bags, too.

Realize that dams do kill fish, and that your life depends on electricity.

Realize that the government enacts many unbelievably stupid laws, and that it also provides, in assistance and grants, many times the tax dollars collected in eastern Oregon to counties here.

Vote, and research who and what you're voting for.

Balance.

Compromise.

Who knows? Maybe people will listen better if you stop shouting at them at the top of your lungs.

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